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Window Condensation, Causes and Cures
by Bennett Contracting, Inc. at www.bennettcontracting.com

Each winter more and more homeowners become interested in the subject of window condensation.  It's not a happy interest.  It stems from bad experiences with window condensation, which range from irritating to downright expensive.

It may strike you as odd, but the growing condensation problems of the nation are caused by progress.  Yes, if you have trouble with window condensation it's probably because you live in a "tight" modern home that you can heat for a fraction of the money it takes to heat the house your parents lived in.  And your condensation problems also result from widespread use of several labor saving appliances that make life easier than it used to be.

This article explains the moisture problems of the "tight" home.  It offers suggestions for curing condensation problems in existing homes and provides suggestions for you who are planning a home.  You will build a "tight" home and there are more things you can do to PREVENT excessive moisture when you build, than can be done in a home where the problem already exists.

What Causes "Trouble" Condensation?

A little fog on the lower corners of your windows now and then probably doesn't bother you and shouldn't.  By the time you've thought about it a second time it has usually gone away. What we're talking about is EXCESSIVE condensation.  Condensation that blocks whole windows with fog or frost.  Water that runs off windows to stain woodwork... or in serious cases even damage the wallpaper or plaster. If you have this kind of condensation on your windows, you have a good reason worry and a good reason to act.

Don't worry so much about the windows...where you can SEE the effect of excess humidity.  You should worry more about what excess moisture may be doing elsewhere in your home.  It may be freezing in the insulation in your attic where it will melt and damage your plaster exactly like a roof leak when warm weather comes.  It may be forcing its way out through siding to form blisters under your exterior paint.  That means the most expensive kind of a paint job.

It's natural and easy in such cases to blame the paint, or the insulation, or the windows.  But it's wrong to blame them. The real villain is invisible.  Its water vapor...too MUCH water vapor.  The best and usually the ONLY way to prevent this trouble is to get rid of excess water vapor. Once you've installed modern high performance windows with insulated glass, there isn't very much more you can do to the windows to stop condensation.

What is Humidity?

Humidity, water vapor, moisture, steam.  They're all the same. They are all one form of water.  Humidity is an invisible gas.  It is present in varying quantities in nearly all air.  THIS MOISTURE IN WET AIR TRIES TO FLOW TOWARD DRIER AIR AND MIX WITH IT. Scientists describe this force as "vapor pressure'.  It is often a very powerful force indeed.  It can act independently of the flow of the air, which holds the moisture.  Vapor pressure can force moisture easily through wood, plaster, cement and brick. Right through most of the materials we use to build our homes.  That is exactly what happens when moisture seeks to escape from the humid air usually found inside your home to the drier winter air outside.

MORE Moisture Trapped in LESS Space

Certain building materials stop water vapor.  Glass is one of these.  Also on this list are some varnishes, paints, tiles, plastics, wall coverings.  Vapor barrier insulation is designed specifically to stop the escape of water vapor and protect the insulation in your walls from the ravages of water. Increased use of these "moisture trapping" materials in the last few years has created the modern "tight" home.  Moisture created by bathrooms, kitchens, laundries and occupants no longer flows easily to the outside.  Modern insulation and construction that keep cold air OUTSIDE also keep moisture in; so, it is very easy to build up excessive and even harmful moisture levels in such homes.  AMERICAN BUILDER magazine calls the problem a combination of many causes that build excessive moisture in the modern home.

First, more washing, more bathing, more showers, more appliances, more gas furnaces--all pour more water vapor into homes than in former years. HEATING & VENTILATING magazine provides builders with reference data on sources of water vapor.  For instance, cooking for a family of four adds 4 1/2 lbs. of moisture a day to a house.  Each shower contributes lbs.; weekly laundry 30 lbs., human occupancy 6 to 9 lbs.; dishwashing 1.2 lbs.

All this moisture MUST eventually escape from your home.  So you see that the modern family of four can easily release 150 pounds or more than 18 GALLONS of water per week into the air in their home!  And houses with no basements have further moisture problems.

How to Reduce Humidity

David Bareuther, Associated Press Building editor, sums up the problem of reducing humidity this way.  He says there are only three ways to reduce humidity:

1. CONTROLLING SOURCES OF HUMIDITY: For instance, venting all gas burners, clothes dryers, etc., to the outdoors.  Use of kitchen or bathroom exhaust fans.

2. WINTER VENTILATION:  Because outside air usually contains less water vapor, it will dilute the humidity of inside air.  This takes place automatically in older houses through constant infiltration (leaking) of outside air.

3. HEAT:  The process of heating your home will reduce the relative humidity--providing it's DRY HEAT.  IT will counterbalance most of all the moisture produced by modern living. Now, before we summarize specific steps for reducing humidity in your home, let's include some basic data about RECOMMENDED MOISTURE.  You can refer to it if you are inclined to test the moisture levels in your own home.

Seven Practical Steps to Control Condensation

Here, arranged from easy to more difficult, are the steps you should take to reduce condensation on your windows.

1. Put on storm windows or double-glazing.

2. Shut off furnace humidifier and any other humidifying devices in your home.

3. Be sure that louvers in attic or basement crawl spaces are open and that they are large enough.

4. Run kitchen or other ventilating fans longer and more often than has been your custom.

5. Open fireplace damper to allow easier escape for moisture.

6. Air out your house a few minutes each day.  Air out kitchen, laundry and bathrooms during use or just following use.

7. If troublesome condensation persists see your heating contractor about an outside air intake for your furnace, about venting of gas burning heaters and appliances; or about installation of ventilating fans.

If the common remedies we suggest (number 1 through 5) don't work, you have a serious condensation problem.  Changes your heating contractor may recommend to further reduce humidity in your home should not be very expensive.  Certainly they will be less expensive than a big paint job caused by excessive water vapor!

You see, the basic principle of reducing window condensation is extremely simple.  When there is too much condensation on your windows, it means that humidity is too high in your home.  You should take necessary steps to reduce humidity until condensation disappears.

But in practice, window condensation and reducing humidity may become very complicated; because many entirely different conditions may affect the way the condensation problem works out in different homes.  Here are a few:

The number and type of windows in the home.

The type of double-glazing system on the windows.

The heating system, hot air or water, perimeter or interior wall heating.

The type of insulation, vapor barrier and ventilation.

The type of soil and quality of drainage.

Because of so many variables, a condensation problem can sometimes be very tough to solve.  That's why we recommend that you put an expert to work on your problem if the simpler steps to reduce humidity don't solve your condensation problem.  See your architect or your heating contractor first.  If they can't help, we suggest that you ask your general contractor or lumber dealer to put you in touch with a qualified expert.  They are available both at engineering schools and from the staffs of heating, insulation, wallboard or window manufacturers.

Before we leave the subject of reducing humidity, we would like to add the following There are two causes of condensation, which are TEMPORARY.  They will disappear after a few weeks or at most a season of heating.

First, there is the moisture that comes from a new construction or remodeling.  There's quite a lot of moisture in the wood, or the plaster or other building materials of a new home.  When the heating starts. This moisture will gradually flow out into the air in the home.  Then it will disappear and not cause any more trouble.

Much the same sort of thing happens in milder form at the beginning of each heating season.  During the summer, your house has absorbed some moisture.  After the first few weeks of heating, your home will be dried out and you'll have less trouble with condensation.

While we have been discussing the control of condensation we've mentioned just about everything except windows.  There's a good reason. There just is nothing much that can be done with windows to cut down condensation.  As the building experts have often pointed out, the windows are not to blame for condensation.  In the moisture content of the inside air, lies both the cause and the cure.

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Hire mold consultants Phillip Fry and Divine Montero  Fryto find air conditioning mold, workplace mold, and mold hidden inside the walls, ceilings, floors, crawl space, attic, and basement of your house, condominium, office, or other building. Mold Training  Mold Inspector Directory  Industrial Hygienist Training  Industrial Hygienist Directory  Lead Test Kits  Mold Fogging Machine  San Diego Mold Removal  Mold Test Dallas Texas  Mold Inspection Dallas Texas  Houston Toxic Mold Testing  House Mold Testing Texas  Mold Attorney

Pictures and Page Content Copyright 2013, 2014 by Mold Experts Phillip Fry and Divine Montero Fry. All Rights Reserved. You may use our mold pictures and mold inspection advice page content on your website provided that you include a published, prominent, clickable link credit for the pictures and content to Building Mold Inspection.  This website was  last updated on Jan. 7, 2014.